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OF PRIMATES and the VIA MEDIA

We live in a democratic country. I realize that purists will dispute such a description of the republic, but there we are. Hardly a day goes by without our being bombarded with “news” about the next general election. In the meantime candidates and those waiting in the wings damn each other with faint praise. I suppose then that it is inevitable that our church is similarly engaged in “politics” with its groups and parties, lobbies and blogs.

As we get closer to the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania the rhetoric gets more shrill and the predictions dire. +Katharine will be expelled or treated badly. The proposed Covenant will enslave TEC and bind the Holy Spirit. There’s little notice of the letter or spirit found in today’s reading from St. Mark 9: 30 – 41. Modern disciples still dispute who will be greatest in the Kingdom. “Greatest” means control. Who will really have God’s ear? Will we be enslaved by Canterbury or have the power to have our own way? Have we been given the power to teach others the new truths we have received?

It looks very much to me that those who want to harshly discipline TEC and those who are unlikely to want to do much more than give us a slap on the wrist are evenly divided. That leaves about six Provinces whose primate may go one way or the other, but probably wouldn’t support the blustering of the Archbishop of Nigeria. Indeed it is not at all clear that the Global South leaders are as pleased with +Peter Nigeria as they once were. Those who have set up shop in the United States are equally liable to receive a purple hued boot in their archiepiscopal posteriors. Whats sauce for the goose…

Nor do I see any evidence that a proposed Covenant is going to be adopted unless it is able to pass muster in Provinces like Ireland or Australia let alone Canada and the US.

Certainly our primate is going to have to explain why our Canons seem to repudiate Eames 1, why it is that we are so organized that no real answer to questions may be forthcoming unless debated by General Convention in the atmosphere of secular legislation and a winner take all system. It is because we can’t represent our whole constituency when asked to answer questions posed to us that minority bishops have to be invited to a Primates’ Meeting. Our politics make us state our case based on the winners’ vote, rather than our being honest and saying that we are divided on these issues. Politics make us dishonest and “parties” which exercise power for years are naturally prone to arrogance.

Hyperbole is a great weapon for politicians. It is easy to damn the rest of the Provinces in the Communion for being less “democratic” than we are. I have a feeling that consciously or not, the charge suggests that African Primates are prone to be dictators and that summons up visions of Mugabe or Idi Amin. I bumped in to the Primate of the Congo at 815 the other day. He didn’t look or sound like a Prince Bishop. I haven’t met an aristocratic bishop in England for years. But their titles sound undemocratic. We are not in Victorian times and today, as then, bishops and archbishops are as limited in authority as our own, and some of our own get away with forms of idiosyncratic and personal power no English bishop would dare to attempt. I dare say that those who damn preletical Provinces don’t really know much at all about their systems of government. At any rate the “dog and pony show”of pre-election hype we now use in the run up to choosing a bishop has to go.

I would love to read a theological and ecclesial defence of the proposition that the church is a democracy. In our church we may elect bishops but once that’s done who pastors and guides and limits our bishops? We’ve been so busy demolishing our traditions and precedents that little is left to describe and limit episcopal function except for “systems” theory, a discipline whose times has left.

And that brings me to truth in advertising. If the group called Via Media is really an association of middle of the road Anglicans then where do the other 70% of Episcopalians fit in? This group needs to justify its title and cite historical, theological and ecclesiological precedent to explain how its shrill rhetoric, so like that of conservative extremists, is at all moderate and reasonable. OK one doesn’t approve of +Bob Duncan, +Jack Iker or +James Stanton if one is in the Pittsburgh or Dallas/Fort Worth dioceses. Fine. Term oneself “Liberals United Against Networks”. But Via Media? Come off it. I don’t doubt that we need some sort of an organization for people of the via media and if founded it would be a sane, patient, moderate and thoroughly boring institution! Lovely. I’m all for some patient boredom in our church.

I don’t expect any real news from the Primates’ Meeting. Maybe Akinola will walk out. Maybe not. Maybe we will be asked to inform and hold discussions with the Communion before we adopt extremely controversial measures like giving communion to the unbaptized: a thoroughly generous, sentimental and theological nonsensical idea. Maybe the test for us all will be the language of the proposed Covenant if and when it emerges to be discussed at Lambeth?

In the meantime it’s useless to ask people to be calm, but it might be splendid if we all pray for all the Primates, how ever elected or whatever their power or positions might be?